On “The Deputy Seraph”: The Marx Brothers Sit Com

deputyseraph

In April 1959, the Marx Brothers shot a little bit of what was to have been a situation comedy called The Deputy Seraph. The concept sounds a bit like Touched by an Angel or Highway to Heaven,  but with even greater angelic interference. Chico and Harpo are angels whose job it is to go down to earth and manipulate people’s live by inhabiting their bodies and steering them in the right direction. Being Chico and Harpo, they tend to steer them in the wrong direction, thus situation comedy. Every third episode their supervisor, the Deputy Seraph (Groucho) steps in, kicks butt, and helps straighten out messes.

At any rate, the project didn’t get an further than the preliminary shooting stage because Chico didn’t pass the insurance physical. Which is ironic, because of the three, he was the one who most needed the money. He passed away two years later. I seldom lament the demise of this show as one of the great Comedy-Could-Have-Beens. The brothers were older of course but that could have been worked around; in the hands of the right film-makers anybody can be made to look good. Likewise their performances might have transcended the el cheapo look of the show; so many others did (and do). From the admittedly meager evidence the real issue would have been the material. (Incidentally, is it me or is The Deputy Seraph  one of the worst titles ever devised? I’m not saying the Marx Brothers weren’t capable of wordplay that bad, but at worst in the old days it would get lost in a barrage of much better jokes. Standing all alone like this as the title of a show is like shining a spotlight on a wart).

For more on comedy film history please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etcchain%20of%20fools%20cvr%20front%20only-500x500To find out about  the history of vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.safe_image

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3 Responses to “On “The Deputy Seraph”: The Marx Brothers Sit Com”

  1. I needed a couple tries to figure out what the wordplay in the title was, but at least I got there. Probably I’d have been faster if I’d read it aloud sooner.

    It seems like a premise that … mm. It probably would’ve fit in as a mid-60s unreal-situation comedy (I suppose it’s not far off, conceptually, the sitcom the Smothers Brothers did), but I have trouble imagining it working in 1959 and as cast.

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    • Thanks for reminding me about that first Smothers Brothers show! I’ll have to do something on that at some point…

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  2. There was also the dreadful TWILIGHT ZONE episode, another busted pilot, called “Cavender is Coming,” with Jesse White as a (surprise!) screw up angel, who helps Carol Burnett out of a jam. Yes, “Deputy Seraph” is an awful title. When you have to explain a pun, it ain’t no damned good.

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